The Magazine of The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America


Thoughtfully beautiful

Images enhance ideas in these books

One of my favorite combinations is thoughtful words accompanied by beautiful art. (Or is it the other way around?) Two new books do an excellent job of creating this combination. In both the whole seems more than the sum of the parts.

In virtually every one of the world's religions, hands play an important role. We use our hands in prayer, in receiving the eucharist, in passing the peace. Children, who often can't express their faith in words, do so by drawing a picture.

The extent to which hands "shape" religion is the subject of Praying with Our Hands: 21 Practices of Embodied Prayer from the World's Spiritual Traditions (SkyLight Paths Publishing, 2000). A collaboration between writer Jon M. Sweeney and photographer Jennifer J. Wilson, this book depicts how various faiths define different roles for followers' hands.

The book contains wonderful black-and-white photos of such familiar practices as making the sign of the cross or lighting Sabbath candles. Less familiar practices are also included, such as "the cosmic mudra," a specific Zen Buddhist way of holding the hands during meditation; or the special position of hands in the Sufi form of dancing practiced by the "whirling dervishes." Perhaps more than anything else, the book illustrates how much diverse religions have in common regarding the use of embodied prayer.

Teachings of the Master: The Collected Sayings of Jesus Christ, compiled by Philip Law (Westminster John Knox, 1999), emphasizes how the meaning of Christ's pronouncements is truly universal. It uses just about every form of visual art, from every culture and every historical period, to illustrate what Jesus said on various topics. The words may be familiar, but the use of a Currier and Ives print, a Japanese woodblock or a Byzantine mosaic to illustrate the teachings makes them seem provocative in new ways. The illustrations are especially evocative in combination.

Both books are available from Augsburg Fortress, Publishers, (800) 328-4648; www.augsburgfortress.org.


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